Doctor Juozas Markulis – Code Named Eagle – Soviet Agent and Provocateur

Lithuanian partisans captured by the MGB in the postwar period were sometimes turned into provocateurs or double agents – few could resist the intimidation and torture used against them in interrogations. Some collaborators were more thorough and enthusiastic in their work than others. Among them were Juozas Deksnys, described in earlier posts, and Algimantas Zaskevicius (reported to have contributed to the capture of 300 partisans).

Collaborator Markulis narrowly escaped execution by Juozas Luksa

But the most famous of them all was Dr. Juozas Markulis, who taught medicine at the university of Vilnius.

Markulis was born in the USA but returned to Lithuania to complete studies for the priesthood. He never took religious orders. He was handsome and attractive to women, and he shifted instead to officer training in the military and finally into medicine in 1940. He joined the LLA, an underground Lithuanian resistance organization in 1941.

The organization was smashed by the Soviets at the end of 1944, and its archives fell into their hands. Markulis may have been identified at this time – he certainly was turned at this time.

The partisan underground lacked intellectuals – many of the fighters were the children of farmers, and Markulis insinuated himself into a local regional partisan unit where he was much beloved and looked upon as a father figure.

Markulis had two strategies – to unify the partisans in the country and to convince them to move toward passive resistance, tactics that were beginning to work. He was convincing to the partisans and impressive to his MGB superiors, writing long and detailed reports that showed he had an excellent memory for detail.

Working under intense pressure, Markulis could not avoid making mistakes, and one of them was permitting the MGB to arrest Jonas Deksnys, who had been instructed by his brother to maintain ties with no one but Markulis.

Thus it became clear that Markulis was a collaborator and spy and Juozas Luksa himself went to Vilnius in 1947 to execute him, but Markulis escaped.

He lived in Leningrad until 1953, when the partisan movement had been destroyed, and then returned to teach at the University of Vilnius.

His motivations remain opaque. He died in 1988, just before Lithuania regained its independence. His legacy is a name synonymous with treachery – he is the Benedict Arnold of Lithuanian to those who know the story of the resistance to the Soviets.

Afghanistan Meets Lithuania In Queen’s Quarterly.

The editor of Queen’s Quarterly posed a question of me at a time of great stress while my son was a soldier in Afghanistan. The editor wanted me to write about Lithuania.

current issue
The Current Issue of Queen's Quarterly

Afghanistan and Lithuania? What’s the link? Here’s the opening of that essay. The rest can be found in the current issue:

Where I’m coming from; Where I’m Going to

For the fourth year in a row I’m standing at the crossroads of Pylimo and Traku Streets in Vilnius, Lithuania, worrying the place, trying to sift the stories that lie like dust between the cobblestones. I’m slightly sick of this baroque, labyrinthine city – the strangulated cries of the swallows at dusk make me think of the dead souls of forgotten citizens.

Nobody who lives in Vilnius now had great grandparents who lived here – most of the old inhabitants were killed during the war or shipped out after it. Vilnius is old, but the people who inhabit it are relatively new to this city.

They came here after the war, around the time I was born to immigrant parents in Toronto. Although I’ve spent my whole life in Canada, my clan, my people are new to it, and I’m not entirely comfortable in the country of my birth. I keep coming back to this melancholy city of Vilnius, mulling over the past and trying to determine the geography of my belonging.

A Week in Canadian Literature

It’s been a busy week of literary appearances, most of them for my novel,  Underground.

On Thursday, April 27, I was at the North York Public Library in front of a small crowd of twenty or so who peppered me with questions on the research for Underground as well as some of my older books.

At the Toronto Public Library

On Friday, April 29, I was reading for Diaspora Dialgoues at the Central Library. Diaspora Dialogues, run by Helen Walsh and Co, do good work bringing immigrants and immigrant writers into the Canadian literary world. One of the readers that night was Joyce Wayne, a lovely journalism teacher from Sheridan who ran a special program for immigrant journalists. We at Humber took one of her graduates, Myank Bhatt into the correspondence program in creative writing, where he is working with M G Vassanji, and I have high hopes for good literary outcomes there.

On Saturday, April 30, I attended the Random House Open House cocktail party at the Bar Mercurio. All the Random House luminaries were there, from president Martin to Louise Dennys and publicist Randy Chan (delicious hors d’oeuvres included steak tartare) . I talked for a while to Harbourfront director Geoffrey Taylor, who was just back from literary events in Ireland, and then to James Bartleman, former lieutenant governor of Ontario and Humber alumnus. A couple of former Humber publishing students were there as well.

On Monday, May 2, Snaige and I drove to Ottawa for, among other things, tea at the American ambassador’s house. It turns out she is a supporter of literature. There, I met Madeleine Thien for the first time and chatted with Sylvia Tyson and Elizabeth Hay. An embassy official was playing show tunes on the piano, but he took a break as American poet, Robert Pinsky recited some poems by heart.  The residence is a stunning pile up on a hill overlooking the Ottawa River with some decent art on the walls including a Georgia O’Keefe and an Emily Carr. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful setting.

Tea at the American Ambassador's House

Then it was down into Ottawa to Arc the. Hotel, a hipster-cool black place where I felt as if I should always be speaking in hushed tones. On Tuesday night, May 3, I read and spoke in the Mayfair Theatre along with Humber alumna Suzanne Desrochers (Brides of New France) and Sarita Mandanna (Tiger Hills). The old theatre served popcorn during the talk – a nice break from the habitual literary fare of canapés or cakes.

With Sarita Mandanna (left) and Suzanne Desrochers in Ottawa

Afterward, I hung around the hotel hospitality suite with the excellent Ottawa festival organizers and David Adams Richards. The sesame shrimp were delicious, and after a few glasses of white wine, I was talking wildly about Canadian literature from Wayne Johnston to Michael Crummey, with David filling in a few discreet details. He doesn’t drink, so his restraint was better than mine.

On Wednesday, May 4, the Lithuanian ambassador, Ms Ginte Damusis, invited me to speak to the ambassadors of central European countries over a buffet lunch on the subject of my novel. We had representatives from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and other countries. They were interested in my talk of postwar partisans because many of them come from countries with similar post-war histories. The American ambassador’s wife, Julie Jacobson, was there too and all of them took away copies of Underground. Then it was off to Dinner at the Blue Cactus later that evening.

Left, German Ambassador, me, Lithuanian Ambassador, American Ambassador's wife ( fan of literature)

I should have gone to Humber alumna Sarah Raymond’s book launch at Type Books in Toronto on Thursday, but we were held up on the road in Gananoque, visiting my former Humber student Colette Maitland and Snaige’s art friends, Otis Tamasauskas and Jan, and so I arrived home too late to make it.

What would think literary exhaustion would set in, but I am deep into Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.  She’ll be in Toronto in a couple of weeks.